Review: Nativity! The Musical, Birmingham Rep

“A cheeky drink, a naughty wink,
we’ll loosen up alright”

Just like a wise man, I came late to Nativity, only getting round to watching Debbie Isitt’s film a couple of years ago but oh, how it won me over, feeling like an instant Christmas classic. (The less said about the sequel and the shocking third film, the better). So it was little surprise to hear that Isitt was adapting her film for the stage, in the form of Nativity! The Musical. And though I have once again embraced my inner Scrooge and won’t be reviewing much, if any, festive fare this year, I couldn’t resist the chance to sparkle and shine.

And I’m glad I did, even if it is a full month too early to be even thinking of anything Christmassy. Nativity remains a beautifully heart-warming story and if anything, has even more of a feel-good factor about it through all the liveness of this production. The story centres on Coventry primary school St Bernadette’s, trying to escape Ofsted-imposed special measures by beating a rival school to putting on the best Christmas show which, through the most tenuous of links, might just attract Hollywood interest and get turned into a film. Continue reading “Review: Nativity! The Musical, Birmingham Rep”

Review: That Day We Sang, Royal Exchange

“It’s not exactly Roman Holiday, is it?”

Victoria Wood’s That Day We Sang premiered at the Manchester International Festival in 2011 and it fair near captured my heart with its archetypal northern charm and its determination to find the special in the mundane. I wrote about the show back then but Sarah Frankcom’s production for the Royal Exchange features a reworked and recast version of this play with songs which has proven to be a canny choice indeed for the Manchester venue’s festive offering.

The show tells the story of how a group of Mancunian schoolchildren ended up performing with the Hallé Orchestra in 1929 on a Purcell recording and also the results of a get-together 40 years later for a Granada TV documentary. The two strands interweave and overlap as two of the choir engage in a putative romance after the reunion, the aspirations of their younger selves contrasted with the drabness of the older and the potential spark ignited after the long-awaited meeting. Continue reading “Review: That Day We Sang, Royal Exchange”

Review: Acorn Antiques The Musical, The Lowry

Having seen and loved Acorn Antiques The Musical when it played in London, despite a few misgivings about the first half, I was keen to ensure that we saw the touring version when it was announced and it fit in well with my Christmas plans to go and see it at the Lowry in Salford. Victoria Wood had obviously taken the (somewhat harsh) reviews to heart though as she has performed some major surgery on the show and the whole conceit of the first half has been removed: we open straight into Manchesterford and the goings-on at the antique shop.
Some of the songs from that original first half have been shoehorned into the story, the tap number is great fun though a bit of a stretch having the am-dram society rehearsing in the shop and other ones shifted around a bit. It still made me laugh, but I must admit to not finding it quite as funny as I did the first time round. And I suppose this is largely to do with the fact that this is a new cast that has been put together for this tour, which features none of the main principles.

And I know it shouldn’t matter, the strength of the show should mean that any good actors can take us through it, but so much of the pleasure of the original was seeing the famous, familiar faces from the TV show reprising their roles, in particular Celia Imrie and Julie Walters, the latter’s Mrs O being so intertwined with herself that I found it impossible to imagine anyone else ever being able to perform the role. And I think that is what the producers also thought as Ria Jones who takes on the role here plays it as close to Walters as possible, which is probably for the best as she can really pull it off. I was less convinced by Sara Crowe’s Miss Babs and Teddy Kempner’s Clifford, but Lisa Peace’s Miss Berta and Beverly Rudd’s Mimi were good fun.

Expectations are often a killer and I think I let them get the better of me here, working myself into a state of excitement that was always unlikely to be matched. Though as the dvd of the original cast is now available, I might add that to my Christmas present list and see if it really was as good as I remembered first time round.